Agriculture: Will Indian farmers now use drones to cultivate their crops?

In an attempt to digitize agriculture in India, the GOI is now considering providing financial assistance to farmers to help them buy advanced-tech like drones. But how feasible is it in a country with more than 50% of the population involved in farming?

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Agriculture: Will Indian farmers now use drones to cultivate their crops?

In yet another move to reform agriculture in India, the GOI is considering providing financial assistance to farmers in purchase of drones. In a press release issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare on 26th July 2022, the government is planning to offer 100% financial assistance or rupees 10 lakh, whichever is less, for purchase of drones to Farm Machinery Training & Testing Institutes of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) and State Agricultural Universities (SAUs). Besides this, 75% financial assistance to FPO’s and 40% or rupee 4 lakh, whichever is less, will be provided to general category farmers and Custom Hiring Centers(CHCs). 50% of assistance or rupees 5 lakh, whichever is less, is also planned to be provided for drone purchases to SC/ST/women/small and marginal farmers and the agriculture graduates.

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Moreover, the press release also mentions the formation of Steering Committee which comprises experts from different Ministries of Government of India, fields/domain, educational & research Institutes, private tech players and other stakeholders for advising on initiatives taken by the GOI to digitize agriculture. These initiatives include AgriStack and India Digital Ecosystem in Agriculture (IDEA).

What is AgriStack?

AgriStack is a plan proposed by the GOI in June 2021, that attempts to digitize the country’s agriculture information, form a database and integrate it to farming related technologies to grow the sector. This will include collection of data associated with farming like land records, incomes, weather, geography etc. It is reported that a unique farmer identity number would be provided to each registered farmer through which they will receive information and recommendations regarding best agricultural practices, weather updates, high yield seed varieties, insurance etc. The government also plans on promoting agri-based startups in another effort for the digitization of the sector.

Challenges and Criticism

Last year, on 30th June 2021, 91 farmers organizations and groups which work on safeguarding individual digital rights approached the government and argued that implementing policies like AgriStack will breach privacy laws for farmers. They asserted that issues with transparency and correct handling of public data still remain unaddressed. Moreover, farmers organizations criticize that they remained unconsulted in the formation of the policy. Other critics suspect the involvement of private companies and digital algorithms can harm farmers’ interests. 

Besides the criticism, one can not deny the challenges that come with implementing policies which involve more than 600 million livelihoods. Not more than 42% of Indian farmers are reported to use smartphones to access farming related information. Although with a push to the digital economy, this number has substantially gone up in the last few years, but a large number of rural households still remain deprived of the benefits of technologies as basic as smartphones. 

Another question bound to be raised is the freebie culture and corruption associated with it. Big South Asian and African economies like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zambia etc are already crumbling down under the debt built up from the same freebie culture. 

TPT’s advocacy and Suggestions:

According to a NITI AYOG report, India needs to grow its agriculture by at least 4% annually in order to maintain an average of 8 to 10% in the country’s overall growth rate. Clearly, even in the age of AI and robotics, agriculture still holds its importance. Here are some points we advocate for the sector’s welfare and growth:

  • Proper consultation with all the stakeholders is important before issuing such policies which impact big populations. It was not too long ago when the government needed to backtrack the 3 farm laws because it failed to address everyone involved. 
  • Fair and merit based participation of the private sector should be ensured. Handing contracts to preferred private firms should be checked by opposition and media houses. 
  • Government should avoid rushing on decision making and transparency should be maintained. 
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Agriculture: Will Indian farmers now use drones to cultivate their crops?
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In an attempt to digitize agriculture in India, the GOI is now considering providing financial assistance to farmers to help them buy advanced-tech like drones. But how feasible is it in a country with more than 50% of the population involved in farming?
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THE POLICY TIMES
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